Tag Archives: South

Finding Treasure in Tuscaloosa

James Peale: George Washington at Yorktown

I recently made my first trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that southern city with the funny sounding name. Seems it derives from the Choctaw Indian chief Tuskaloosa and from two Choctaw words, “Tushka”, meaning warrior, and the “Lusa”, meaning black.  Well, now I also know where Tuscaloosa’s river, the Black Warrior, got its name. Much to my surprise, the city, which is home to the University of Alabama,  brims with fantastic museums. But who knew?

The Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art lies in the hilly woodlands off Lake Tuscaloosa. I found masterpieces displayed in a home-like setting: a living and dining room, library and even a tavern room with a bar. Why the ladies restroom is hung with 11 Mary Cassatt’s. The priceless objects range from a Paul Revere engraving to current artists and include sculpture, china and furniture. The poignant collection, amassed by Jack Warner, recalls our nation’s struggles and growth. Jack is both a passionate historian and patriot.

Hopper: Dawn Before Gettysburg

I was surprised to find that he often gives tours, even at age 92. I was lucky enough to meet both Jack and his wife, Susan, and saw firsthand the excitement and fulfillment they get from sharing their treasures. Give yourself a full morning or afternoon to see the famous works you likely thought were elsewhere.

Moundville Archeological Park, owned by the University of Alabama, is an unpretentious 326- acre preserve. Moundville was the center for 10,000 Mississippian Indians over 800 years ago. Her people built  flat-topped mounds as ceremonial structures and homes for their nobles. A stockade once surrounded the settlement, but is long gone. However, twenty-eight hills remain and you can climb them. The tallest, at 58 feet, was used by the chief. I took the steps up to the top and tried to imagine this lost civilization. I could see the symmetrical layout and fortunately I’d toured the museum first, so my visualizations of daily life ran quite colorful.

Inside the Moundeville Museum
Inside the Moundville Museum

The museum underwent a ten year, $5-million renovation and officially reopens on May 15th. I managed a sneak peek. First, I was greeted by symbols of Native American culture like hawks and eagles, which are mounted on wooden heraldic (totem) poles. Then, I entered and found life-size characters dressed for a wedding. Further on, I bumped into a medicine man hiding in a cave or as the curators call it, an earthlodge. He steals the thunder performing a 3-D hologram-like show about a journey into the afterlife. The Disney-type encounter grabs the attention of  kids and adults alike.  Don’t overlook the significant archeological artifacts contained within the interactive display cases throughout the building. To make the park even more family friendly, camping is an option.

Coach Bryant
Coach Bryant

I couldn’t go to Tuscaloosa and miss the University campus. Last year the Crimson Tide once again won the National Football Championship and the Waterford trophy proudly resides within the Bear Bryant Museum. I found some of the art, like the collage in the photo, were painstaking works of devotion. The museum houses memorabilia covering the history of college football and features the famous hound’s-tooth hat wearing coach. Sports fans could spend many hours in this place.

Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center

The luxury German auto manufacturer Mercedes Benz maintains their only US production facility in Tuscaloosa, which greatly benefits the local economy. Car enthusiasts are attracted by factory tours.  Anyone 12 and older can tour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but by reservation only. You’ll get an up-close look at assembly lines and cars being built by the combined efforts of mechanical robot and human hands. My detailed account of this tour can be found at www.automotivetraveler.com.

Tourism Bureau
Tourism Bureau within the Jemison-Van de Graff Mansion

I also stopped by the Tourism Bureau and picked up a free audio tour of the downtown. The city boasts some unusual architecture and an array of elegant to down-home restaurants. Dreamland BBQ is known far and wide for their oven pit barbequed ribs. My restaurant reviews can be found on my food blog.

Indeed, I found Tuscaloosa a real treat. Her museums bring unexpected delights.

If you go:  Tuscaloosa is in West Alabama, about a two and a half hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia or one hour from Birmingham, Alabama.   www.visittuscaloosa.com

Springtime in the Gardens of Savannah and Tybee Island

Savannah's Forsyth Fountain
Savannah's Forsyth Fountain

Seductive Savannah, Georgia's first city, beckons with sophisticated stature: iron fences and balconies adorn stately antebellum mansions; renovated townhouses abut cobblestone streets; green squares blossom and aged live oaks drip with Spanish moss. She flaunts mystery with tales of murder and ghosts.

Neighboring Tybee Island, a 20-minute drive, bespeaks an altogether different aura; she tempts visitors to tiny raised cottages, marsh grass, tidal beaches and sea breezes. Where Savannah oozes Southern charm and elegance, Tybee prefers laid back relaxation. Both vacation spots offer ideal springtime getaways.

Savannah's historic district is divided into a grid. Walk or hop on a tour bus to review her past and visit high-end antique shops, quirky boutiques or art museums. Fans of John Berendt's, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, will enjoy touring sites from the book, including the Mercer Williams House and serene Bonaventure Cemetery.

Mercer House
Mercer House

Make sure to dine at Paula Deen's The Lady & Son's Restaurant, probably the most sought out reservation in town or Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, a former boardinghouse that dishes a lunch that lasts all day. Another favorite, The Pink House, serves elegant southern cuisine. If you want to splurge on lodging, check into The Mansion on Forsyth Park or consider numerous bed-and-breakfast inns at www.historicinnsofsavannah.com.

Cross the causeway and let your hair fly. Tybee Island's claim to fame is Fort Pulaski, where a famous Civil War battle occurred, and Tybee Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia. Sign-on for deep-sea fishing charters, perhaps a dolphin cruise, rent a bike or kayak, bird-watch, surf or simply rest on her shores. The beach is perfect for weddings and many couples choose to wed along the five miles of sandy dunes

Island shopping offers beach-themed kitsch, bait and tackle shops, and art exhibits. May 15th is the date for the 21st annual Beach Bum Parade. Spectators line the parade route armed with buckets, squirt guns and hoses. What results is an all-out water war.

The Savannah Beach Inn on Tybee, offers lodging in a restored 1898 Victorian house. The owners prepare a luscious gourmet breakfast, featuring Bananas Foster French Toast, host daily wine and cheese receptions and leave bedtime, milk and cookies.

For dinner try the famous Crab Shack for seafood low-country boil or catch a sunset meal at a local's favorite, A.J's Dockside Restaurant.

Give yourself a springtime fling in one of America's loveliest cities or interesting islands.

For more information on Savannah's events, please visit www.SavannahVisit.com, for Tybee Island: www.tybeevisit.com.